Cameroon timber Synopsis
“I have transformed myself every few years. A lot of people who know me cannot believe that I am the same person they saw a few years ago. I keep transforming depending on the current and future needs, and I have endeavoured to create L&T as a platform to do national good,” said A M Naik.AM Naik Exclusive: ‘Yesterday’s L&T led in solar, nuclear; tomorrow’s L&T is working on wind energy’A M Naik, one of India Inc’s longest-serving corporate chieftains, has helmed Larsen & Toubro’s transformative journey over the decades. He will step down as non-executive chairman on September 30, marking the end of an era at India’s largest engineering services conglomerate. In an interview with Deborshi Chaki, Naik laid down the road ahead and key milestones achieved so far. Edited excerpts.
As you hang up your boots, how have you ensured that L&T remains the company it was envisioned to be?
When transitioning the role of CEO to SN Subrahmanyan (SNS), who takes over from me, I initiated a process of handing over my interconnected responsibilities. We aptly named this procedure ‘passing on the baton.’ During this phase, I travelled to different locations and emphasised that if anyone were to face adversity, they should retreat momentarily and then strategically counter-attack when the circumstances were favourable. This approach would ultimately lead to triumph, making them supreme in their endeavours. While this concept has not been widely discussed, it holds significant importance for our organisational ethos.
How did you ensure a smooth transition?
During my first year as CEO, I frequented the office daily. In the subsequent year, it was reduced to three times a week, and then to once a week.
Currently, it’s limited to about once in a fortnight. It isn’t a matter of how often I can be present; it’s a strategic move to shape a particular perception. The intention is for the world to view SNS as the leader driving the company, distinct from being in the shadow of another individual. This approach serves to solidify the image of SNS as a proactive leader. Each action I take is marked by its significance, aligning with the stature of a great leader. Now, it’s widely understood that the company is effectively managed by SNS, a point I wholeheartedly concur with. I am sure that Subrahmanyan will continue to foster the high growth and entrepreneurial culture at L&T.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
I have lived with challenges my whole life. However, one of the biggest challenges I have faced was in 2003, when there was a takeover bid on the company. But, in the end, we solved the issue. We always kept our lines of communication open with the potential buyer (the Aditya Birla Group). I understood that they were more interested in L&T’s cement assets. We gave cement to them, which is what they wanted and we wanted to sell it anyway. We took all the engineering shares. An employee trust was set up, to which the shares were transferred to ringfence the company against future challenges. I conceptualised the proposal with an objective to retain L&T’s unique character and strengthen the employees’ sense of belonging.
What qualities of Subrahmanyan made you back him as your successor?
For the last 30 years, I’ve been mentoring the leaders within the company and that is why L&T has always had good leaders. So, for the past 11 years, I have mentored SNS.
You will be surprised to know that I did not know him till 2006. But when I met him, I could make out that this was a guy who was very smart. I began giving him advice and feedback continuously, and I can safely claim that nobody in L&T’s history has got as much advice from me as SNS has got. I had the panoramic view of all the leaders within the company and I found that he was smarter than everybody and also younger than everybody else.
Looking back, how do you think your tenure has transformed you as a person?
I have transformed myself every few years. A lot of people who know me cannot believe that I am the same person they saw a few years ago. I keep transforming depending on the current and future needs, and I have endeavoured to create L&T as a platform to do national good. Whether it is the core sector, infrastructure or high-priority sectors such as aerospace, defence or nuclear, L&T has emerged as a national company. It has always been my dream to build L&T as a national institution and I have devoted my entire life to doing so.
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